Before I begin chronicaling Zef and I’s adventures around The City of Light, I realized that there was one important thing to cover: How does one get around the city with a stroller and diaper bag and sanity intact?
If there is anything that Paris has taught me since Zef was born, it’s that this city hates strollers. All of the quaint cobblestone streets and sidewalks narrower than a five year-old’s hips are hell for a parent trying to push their whining, fussy little babies around the Latin Quarter, let alone brave the steep slopes of Montmarte.
As if navigating the city above ground weren’t hard enough, just try taking the Metro!
The city’s subway system was built before building codes for such forward-thinking things as wheel chair access were added to the common vernacular. Want to take the Metro? Pas de soucis! No problem! Just get ready to heft your baby — stroller, diaper bag and all — up and down flights of stairs zigzagging through Paris’s labyrinthine underground.
There are only a handful of Metro Stations equipped with escalators, let alone elevators. And even those that are equipped with such modern amenities as escalators and elevators are often only partially served. This means that after ascending or descending one or two stroller-friendly stories, you’ll be left — baby, stroller, diaper bag and whatever else you’re toting around — to navigate that last flight or two of stairs manually, as mother nature intended, one step at a time.
Trust me. This sucks. I’ve done it a lot and have the strained lower back muscles to prove it.
The only wheel-friendly Metro line is the newest, fully automated Line 14 (built in 1998, which also happens to continue running if there are any labor strikes, a sort of French tradition and something probably worthy of an entire blog post of its own). Line 14 runs from Gare Saint Lazare in the northwest, through the middle of Paris before stopping at Olympiades in the southeast. Every one of Line 14’s Metro stations is equipped with elevators and stroller-friendly ramps. It really is a small blessing of public transportation.
But unless you get really lucky or plan your stay in Paris around the fully-automated wonders of Line 14, you need some other ways to get from one end of the city to the either.
It’s not a great surprise that most stroller-bound moms and dads — not to mention most of the city’s large octogenarian population — prefer the relatively easy-to-use bus system. Though the buses generally take longer to get from Point A to Point B, the little bit of extra time and the single stair you have to climb to get onto the bus seems to me to be a fair trade off. This way at least you don’t have to lug your stroller up and then down multiple flights of stairs through the Metro station, counting yourself among the fortunate if you don’t slip and fall and break your back and send your child careening down the concrete steps of the underground!
Perhaps the one thing that any traveler in Paris, whether they’re a parent or not, can enjoy is a cheap tour of the city. One of my favorite cheap tours is bus line 69, which takes you from the hip bars and restaurants around the Bastille, through the trendy Marais, past the Louvre, across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. Line 69 makes for an awesome tour that costs as much as a bus ticket (€1.40) and if your baby is anything like ours, then you know that a bus trip also equals an quick, fuss-free nap.
For getting around the less-visited periphery, the new tram system is a blessing,
with destinations such as the fun environs of the Monsouris and George Brasses parks, the exposition hall of Porte de Versailles and the business-shopping center of La Defence.
Of course, if you’re pressed for time and have a car seat, there is always the ever-popular Über. My wife and I use this in a pinch, such as when she went into labor and we had to get to the hospital ASAP! Alas, that’s a story for another time.
All this is to say, as family-friendly as Paris is, it has a long way to go for our wheel-bound loved ones. As Zef and I are getting around Paris, checking out the sights and sounds, these are the sorts of logistics I’m trying to keep in mind to keep the back straight, healthy and unbroken and the sanity somewhat intact.